Author Spotlight: Josh Funk
Happy Monday and welcome back to Picture Book Spotlight!
Today, we have ANOTHER GIVEAWAY! Josh Funk will be generously giving away 2 signed books, so read to the end to find out how to win! Take it away, Josh!
What is something you absolutely must have in the refrigerator or pantry (other than pancakes and French toast)
Bagels. In my family we require a dozen fresh bagels at least twice a week. I really don’t know how we go through so many or who’s eating three a day. My active theory is we have a burglar who comes in every night, but only steals bagels. I should probably call Inspector Croissant.
Name three things you can’t do your job without.
Coffee, coffee, and coffee.
Where do you feel most inspired and why?
The children’s section of a library. With all of the books and children running around, I often like to go sit at a (short) table, plug in some headphones (for white noise) and write right there.
Settle the score once and for all...team Pancake...or team French Toast?
Team Baron von Waffle. Bwahahahaha!
Talk to us a little bit about your background before becoming a picture book author. And, more importantly, why picture books?
I don’t really have much of a background. I’m a software engineer and a father. As a father I always read a lot of books to my kids and there were some amazing picture books that I loved! When they were about 3 and 6 years old, I decided I wanted to try and write books myself. I also play guitar and have written songs over the years (I was more They Might Be Giants quirky than Eddie Veder poetic) - and I think that also translated to picture books pretty well.
Your tenth book just came out. Congratulations! And your eleventh book, the sequel to How to Code a Sandcastle (How to Code a Rollercoaster), is coming out this September! That’s fantastic! Tell us what it means to you to have so many great titles under your belt.
Thanks! I think that as I was beginning to write, most of my stories were, well, pretty terrible. But as I kept writing, they improved and eventually I had a handful of decent manuscripts that were all ready for prime time at about the same time. So those were the first few books in the bunch (Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, Pirasaurs!, Dear Dragon, & It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk). And then I kept writing as those books were coming out and that’s when the latest crop was developed (Albie Newton, How to Code a Sandcastle, and Lost in the Library) - along with a few sequels thrown in.
Out of your ten books that are out, which one is your favorite and why?
Ha! I can’t answer that. It’s like picking which of my children is my favorite.
What are a few picture books published recently that have inspired you or made you laugh out loud?
My favorite book of late is The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros and Dana Wulfekotte - it’s more emotional than funny, but I love it. Another one I really love is Iver & Ellsworth by Casey W. Robinson and Melissa Larson. Another brilliant book is Alfie by Thyra Heder - about a little girl and her pet turtle.
Some authors use little to no art notes in their manuscripts. Some use a lot. What do your manuscripts look like? What are the benefits for or against using art notes in a picture book manuscript?
I don’t use too many art notes - usually I try to give the illustrators as much opportunity to have fun in the scenery I write and go to town. I suggest using art notes sparingly and only say ‘what’ not ‘how’. You can say throw a gag in here or there, but don’t direct the illustrator to make certain things in one color or another or something like that. Most likely, the illustrator will know how to illustrate a book a LOT better than you do.
You are very outspoken about Caldecott gender inequality. Can you tell us a little bit more about this issue?
From 2001-2018, 15 Caldecott medals were awarded to men, while only 3 were awarded to women. If you include honors, men were awarded 50 times and women 24. I find it hard to believe that in an industry dominated by women (have you ever been to a writing conference?), men are inherently two to SIX times better at illustrating books than women. Food for thought ...
You recently shared the cover reveal for How to Code a Rollercoaster on twitter. What can you tell us about this story?
It’s probably best to share what the publisher has used to describe it: “Pearl and her trusty robot, Pascal, are in for a treat: a day at the amusement park! They’re excited to play games, eat ice cream, and, of course, ride all the rollercoasters. There’s just one problem: the Python Coaster, the biggest and best ride in the park, also has the longest line. Can Pearl and Pascal use CODE to help them get a seat on the giant coaster? By mastering the use of variables, sequences, loops, conditionals, and more, this duo just might get the ride of their dreams—while having the time of their lives.”
Critique groups can be a game changer for any writer who wants to get serious about craft. You dedicated It’s Not Hansel and Gretel to your first critique group. Talk to us about that first group and the role critique groups still function for you even as a successful writer.
My first critique group was made up of strangers I met while taking a ‘Writing books for children’ class through my town’s local adult education center. The members of the class became my first critique group and helped craft my first three books, as well as several others that will likely never see the light of day. Critique groups are critical (*wink*) in helping a writer on their path to publication. Finding people who give you helpful feedback and help you take your writing to the next level has been invaluable to me over the years. I learned so much from hearing others’ thoughts, as well as reading others’ writing and sharing my own feedback - plus, I made valuable friendships for life!
What would you say to anyone throwing shade on rhyming picture books? Verse seems to be gaining in popularity--even in YA! Why do you write in rhyme, and why is rhyme still relevant in today’s children’s literature?
Well, I could talk for days and days and DAYS about writing in rhyme - but ultimately it comes down to the fact that it’s really hard to write in rhyme; in other words, it’s really easy to rhyme badly. A lot of people (like me) start off thinking picture books will be easier than longer fiction. And a lot of those people (like me) think, “hey, I liked Dr. Seuss, and he wrote in rhyme, so I’ll do that, too.” Unfortunately, a lot of those people (like me) end up sending out relatively (or horrifically) amateur rhyme to agents and editors. It took me several years to figure out all the mistakes I was making (I’m still learning new things about writing and rhyming all the time) - but eventually I figured enough things out to get my manuscripts into good enough form that finally interested an editor.
I’ve really enjoyed exploring your website. You have it ordered aesthetically and functionally very effectively. Talk to us about how this website has benefited you as an author?
Thanks! I did a decent amount of research in the year or so before my first book came out to see what other authors did and what I thought would work for me. One tip I remember reading is that you should always refer to “school visits” as “author visits” - because if someone comes to your website, they’re likely already from a school and would like an author to visit (play to your audience).
Your website also has a section with lessons for writers! I had no idea! I am totally reading everything. Talk about how you developed this and why it was important for you to include on your author website?
I hope it’s helpful. During the year or so before my first book came out, I wanted to try and connect with people, but I didn’t really feel that I had anything to share at first. What could I say? “Hey, I have a book coming out in 18 months! Yay!” A month later: “Hey, I have a book coming out in 17 months!” It was gonna get boring and annoying. So I thought about what I could offer and I realized I could share the things I’d learned about writing for kids on my journey toward publication. So I started blogging about it periodically. After a while, I realized that if I reorganized things a little bit, it might look like nice all packaged up on my website. Plus, every once in a while, a friend of a friend of a friend will reach out saying, “my cousin’s guitar teacher’s sister-in-law is interested in writing picture books, can you help them out and give them some advice?” And my answer is always, “yes, check out my ‘Resources for Writers’ section of my website right here: https://www.joshfunkbooks.com/resources-for-writers Break a pencil!”
Nerd alert. I get pretty nerdy with poetry. When I read a picture book that I suspect is following a pattern, I count out the strong beats on my fingers to find the grove. I read it out loud and pay attention to how the sounds relate. How the syllables feel in my mouth. I do this in public, people must think I’m nuts! I noticed that Pirasaurs! and Dear Dragon are both written in iambic-heptameter (Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabell Lee). This meter seems to come easiest to me in my own picture books and poetry. Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast is written in anapestic tetrameter (Twas the Night Before Christmas). The Case of the Stinky Stench is in iambic-tetrameter. What’s your background in poetry? Is there a meter or form in particular that comes easiest to you? What benefits have you noticed writing stories in verse?
Honestly, I don’t really know much about the ins and outs of poetry - and I don’t think you really have to write rhyming picture books. It’s important to stick to a rhythm and rhyme scheme, but it’s actually far more important to think about the fact that other people will be reading your books OUT LOUD to children without ever having seen the words before - and it’s important they sound good doing it (or they won’t want to read them again). It’s not like a song you’ll hear on the radio and be able to emulate - or a poem that the author is reading aloud at a reading. You have to force the reader to emphasize the proper syllables, you can’t count on them picking up the rhythm on their own. The dictionary isn’t always right - the word ‘family’ has three syllables, but I say it with two - so you have to be careful about where you put a family in your story. And not all syllables are created equal. A rhyming picture book is meant to be read aloud, so while “screeched screeched screeched screeched” may work on paper as four syllables, it’s really hard to say them, whereas you can easily say “I am a cat” - sorry for blabbing on and on and on; I said I could talk at length about rhyme...
What do you like to accomplish when you do school visits? Any memorable moments that stick out to you from your many visits?
I don’t really do too many school visits (due to the day job). I love visiting with students when I can, though. One of my favorite things to do is make up characters - take your favorite food and the job you want to be when you grow up and put them together and voila! Meet Officer Pizza. Or President Peanut!
What can you tell us about what you’re working on now? More “it’s NOT” fairytales? More adventures for Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast?
I think the only thing I can officially talk about (outside of this fall’s How to Code a Rollercoaster) is It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood - in which the Wolf comes down with what Grandma had and is replaced by … well, you’ll have to wait until Feb 2020 to find out. As far as more Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast stories, I really *wink* can’t *wink* talk *wink* about *wink* a *wink* fourth *wink* one *wink* at *wink* the *wink* moment. *wink wink*
What do you think of the state of kid lit at this time in history?
I’m no historian, but I think that starting about 10 or 15 years ago, right around when I started reading picture books again - to my kids, a whole crop of amazing new books started coming out. Maybe there were just as many great books created in the late 80’s through the early naughts - but I wasn’t reading picture books then. But there are so many amazing picture books created each week nowadays! It’s pretty awesome.
What’s something upcoming that you’d like to promote?
If you want to learn more about writing picture books, in addition to the resources for writers section of my website, I highly recommend the following resources:
Author Tara Lazar’s Website: https://taralazar.com/Author/Illustrator
Debbie Ohi’s Website: http://inkygirl.com/Author
Katrina Moore’s Website: https://www.katrinamoorebooks.com/blog-for-writers
The Purple Crayon (Harold Underdown’s Website): http://www.underdown.org/
Literary Agent Jennifer Laughran’s Tumblr: http://literaticat.tumblr.com/
and Podcast: https://www.jenniferlaughran.com/literaticast
Thanks for inviting me to chat! And break a pencil!
Thank YOU so much for your entertaining and enlightening interview! Team Baron von Waffle...how did I not see that coming!?
Speaking of Baron von Waffle...YOU can win a signed copy of Mission Defrostable or his latest book, It's Not Hansel and Gretel! See directions below! Thanks for reading, kid lit fam!
Josh has generously offered to giveaway a signed copy of:
To enter this giveaway contest, do one of two things:
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2. Share a comment below AND subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight.
The deadline for this contest is Thursday, March 14th at 9AM CST
The winner will be contacted on Thursday, March 14th and announced on Twitter
About Josh Funk
Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as books - such as the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series (including The Case of the Stinky Stench and Mission Defrostable), the How to Code with Pearl and Pascal series (including How to Code a Sandcastle and the upcoming sequel How to Code a Rollercoaster), the It's Not a Fairy Tale series (including It's Not Jack and the